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Year in Review: Sasha Stefanovic

Is Purdue’s next shooter ready to step up after a strong freshman showing?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Purdue vs Virginia Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

We’re finally going to get the answer to what it’d look like if Painter’s Shooter X redshirted his freshman year.

After sitting out his first year at Purdue, 6’4” Crown Point shooter Sasha Stefanovic showed a surprising amount of spunk and versatility while living up to his ‘shooter’ moniker. The redshirt freshman finished the year shooting 41% from distance, knocking down 25 of his 61 attempts as one Coach Painter’s only options off the bench that could reliably stretch the floor.

This is a relatively low number for a Purdue ‘shooter’ in terms of raw shot attempts, but it’s enough of a sample size to believe his shooting is both sustainable going forward and a necessary for a squad next year that will be losing 281 made threes with the exit of Carsen Edwards (135), Ryan Cline (111), and Grady Eifert (35).

Stefanovic’s jumper, in laymen’s terms, is perfect. It is quick, consistent, and void of all extra motion. There is no improving it mechanically. To suggest changing anything about it is heresy.

But there are parts of Stefanovic’s game that can certainly improve. Decision making is his biggest weakness on offense. It’s not so much that he isn’t seeing the game because there were a dozen instances this year where he saw the cutter and tried to get him the ball just to have the ball be too high, or thrown too fast, or right to a defender that had time to recover. Stefanovic is not Ryan Cline or Dakota Mathias, two shooters who might have been even better passers. Stefanovic’s 28.2% turnover rate is alarming for someone not asked to run any of the offense.

The enticing part of Stefanovic’s game in comparison is that he’s bigger than Mathias and quicker than Cline. This made his defensive performance this year uneven, but also, at times, very impressive. He was played off the court against Virginia. He could not deal with the brutal efficiency of the Cavaliers offense. He was on the court for just 2 minutes, and it was 2 minutes too many. They immediately went after the freshman off ball and he was torched.

But he was a key guard off the bench for Painter most the season. He was surprisingly effective at time doing just what he struggled with against Virginia. He was really good chasing guys off ball screens, and had a surprisingly fast close out step, getting to a lot of passes, and getting a lot of steals. His 2.9% steal rate was easily the highest on the team.

Right now, Stefanovic is entirely straight line fast. He doesn’t move laterally quick enough to guard some of the better guards in the B10, but he’s already an effective deterrent to shooters working off the ball. With Hunter Jr., Eastern, and a few more guards coming in this year, it’s unlikely he will have to guard on the ball very much.

But Stefanovic does need to work on his lateral game and ability to make plays with the ball. Defenders will jump out on him, and he needs to learn how to take advantage of that. For that, he should look at Ryan Cline’s transformation this year. Despite being the slowest guard on the floor most games, Cline became effective by using his size and strength and not rushing to the basket but holding smaller guards on his hip while finishing.

Stefanovic has shown one speed, going straight ahead at the rim, and leaving his feet without any real hope of doing anything but getting a charge called on him.

These are the kinds of things a guard really starts to develop in the off-season. This will be the first time Stefanovic will have game tape behind him, and a coaching staff working with him for an entire off-season working on those weaknesses. It’s a lot easier to improve elsewhere when you’ve already got your shot tuned in.

Stefanovic will be a vital clog next year, not just a piece off the bench for Coach Painter. He should challenge Hunter Jr. and incoming freshman Brandon Newman for major guard minutes. Stefanovic is a perfect match with starting point guard Nojel Eastern who can guard absolutely anyone, but will need a shooter to spread the floor as the offense looks to shift more towards his ability to get to the hoop.

Painter’s track records with shooters is pretty much without fault at this point. He gets the most out of them and then switches it out for a new model.

It’s now Stefanovic’s turn to step out of Cline’s shadow who took the torch from Mathias who watched D. J. Byrd who emulated Ryne Smith who... you get the point.